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May 29, 2005

World's oldest weapons


They were found in 1995 in Schöningen, Germany, in the depths of a coal mine, lying among stone implements and animal bones, including the butchered remains of more than ten horses.

The three wooden spears, each six to seven feet long, are estimated to be 400,000 years old.

Each spear (above and below) was expertly fashioned from the trunk of a 30–year–old spruce tree with the bark removed.

The tip was sharpened at the base of the trunk where the wood is hardest.


The thickest and heaviest part of the carved shaft is about one–third of the distance from the spear point, as in a modern javelin.

The spears were made for throwing at animals from a distance, according to their discoverer, Hartmut Thieme of the Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments in Hannover, Germany.

His group published their findings in the February 27, 1997 issue of Nature magazine.


I came across this information while reading an article in the June 2005 Scientific American entitled "The Morning of the Modern Mind," which suggests that the roots of human intellect run far deeper and appeared in functional fashion much earlier than the usually accepted view that Homo sapiens became "modern" sometime in the past 50,000 years, more than 100,000 years after attaining anatomical modernity.

May 29, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Self–Tan Remover



Those brown palms are a dead give–away.

Now what're you gonna do?

Unless you're a joehead, look dumb is what.

But fortunately for you you're here.

Shimmer Dimmer is specially designed to counter the effects of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient found in most self–tanners.

Contains both an exfoliant and hydrogen peroxide to dramatically reduce the appearance of color in unwanted places like your palms and feet, and tones down the intensity of existing DHA stains.

$14.50 here.

May 29, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My favorite sandwich is PB&B


OK, hold on — it's not pretty.

Peanut butter and butter.

I had one last night right before bed — well, truth be told I had three — and as I lovingly prepared the third I thought to myself how much I've enjoyed this very sandwich since I was a little boy.

I don't know if I created it or if someone made one for me the first time: such origins are lost back in the mists of memory.

The sandwich is delicious no matter what the quality of the ingredients.

Now, that's not to say that better ingredients don't make it better; it's simply that even the most generic components magically combine to create mouth magic when it comes to the following three items that go into my madeleine equivalent.

1) Bread — one slice, because it's an open–face sandwich

2) Butter

3) Peanut butter — preferably crunchy


Butter must be easily spreadable; for me this is not a problem because for decades I have kept my butter in a clear covered Pyrex butter dish (the only place I've ever been able to find one is in the Williams–Sonoma catalog*) on the kitchen counter.

Not the same stick of butter all that time, though.

Girlfriends have come and gone cluck–clucking about rancid butter etc. etc. but you know what?

Tastes just fine to me and I haven't gotten sick yet.

And boy, does room–temperature butter just slide off the knife onto the bread.

That is crucial to preparation of this iconic bookofjoe sandwich: you want just a thin sheen of butter, enough to fill the pores — as it were — of the bread but not so much that you could see butter above the bread surface were you to lower your eye for an edge–on view.

Having the butter move easily off the knife obviates tearing of the bread, especially a problem when using Wonder Bread or its equivalent rather than an artisanal loaf from Poilâne or Firehook or Macrina.

Finally, the peanut butter.

Many years ago I switched to Jif Extra Crunchy and I've never looked back.


And that's all there is to it.

I like a serious layer of peanut butter up top (if I haven't made it clear, the peanut butter goes on last).

In fact, it's hard to put on too much peanut butter.

If the foundation is built correctly then the resulting structure will be a thing of beauty.

For those who need more information, I used Arnold's 100% Whole Wheat Bread last night.

My default butter is Land O' Lakes regular sweet cream butter (top) though when I find their newer ultra–creamy version I buy a few boxes at a time because it seems rather scarce.

Eating one of these sandwiches may be the closest you'll ever get to feeling what it might be like to be me.

Of course, if I ever pull myself together enough to get my World Tour 2005 on the road, that's a whole 'nother story.

*The Pyrex butter dish isn't in the Williams–Sonoma online catalog so don't waste your time looking as did my crack research team both last year and just now.

We're here to do the unpleasant stuff so you can enjoy life.

No, you'll need a paper catalog that comes in the mail and you'll have to order a Pyrex butter dish by phone just like I do.

Now, I could — could — go downstairs and get the item number and the phone number and furnish them now.

But I won't.

Unless one joehead somewhere in the world — or even extraterrestrially–based — asks for it.

I want proof of life.

May 29, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Scotch Rocks



Two perfect cubes of solid granite store in the freezer.

When it's time to break out the bottle you break out your stones, one to a customer, and voila — Scotch rocks with every drop just as good as the first wee dram.

You get two glasses and two granite cubes in a nice wooden presentation box.

Note: rocks work equally well with any liquid.


$125 here (Scotch not included).

May 29, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's Biggest Baci


It weighs 6.6 tons (13,183 lbs./5,980 kg) and stands over 6.5 feet tall and you can see it in the photo above.

BaciOne [big kiss], as it is called, resides in the Museo Storico Nestle Perugina in San Sisto, Italy, about a two hour drive north of Rome in the Umbria region.

Jerry V. Haines wrote about his visit in a story appearing in today's Washington Post Travel section; it follows.

    In Italy, Right in the Kisser

    Think what might have happened if Baci chocolates had kept their original name, cazzotti . Instead of giving your true love a "kiss" (in Italian, bacio ), you'd give him or her a "punch" -- as in punch in the mouth.

    We learned this and other historical tidbits about Italy's famous bonbon at the Perugina factory and museum in San Sisto, about a two hours' drive north of Rome in theUmbria region.

    The facility is in a light industrial area (which in Italy means that there still are vineyards between the factory buildings) a few miles west of Perugia, the city where the candy was born and from which the company takes its name.

    A guide shared the history of the treat: In 1907, pastamaker Francesco Buitoni and his partners started a venture to make "confetti" (sugar-coated almonds) and other confections.

    One day in 1922, Louisa Spagnoli, wife of one the co-venturers, blended some leftover chopped hazelnuts with chocolate rather than waste them.

    She formed the mixture into cylinders, topped them with whole hazelnuts and bathed her creations in dark chocolate.

    Thus was born the cazzotto -- about the size of a small fist.

    Fortunately, wiser marketing minds decided that the candies might sell better if reduced in size and given a name that didn't denote assault and battery.

    The company, now owned by international food giant Nestle, produces about 1.5 million of them a day.

    Its San Sisto museum displays early cocoa mills, elegant antique candy packages and the BaciOne (big kiss), the largest Baci ever, which weighed in at 13,183 pounds for a 2003 Guinness record.

    Marketing missteps are acknowledged, too: In the 1960s, inspired by the advance of space exploration, Perugina produced green pistachio-flavored Baci, touted as "the taste of tomorrow."

    Earthlings weren't ready.

    But neither did the rip-offs by some of their competitors endure -- Carezze (caresses), Bacio Ardente (hot kiss) and, for some reason, Bacio Fascista (Fascist kiss).

    Perugina's advertising, also on display in the museum, included filmed testimonials from Frank Sinatra, but my favorite gimmick was a 1930s trading card campaign.

    The cards, with likenesses of celebrities and literary figures, were included in Baci and Buitoni pasta boxes and could be collected in albums.

    The albums each held 150 cards and could be redeemed for merchandise -- for example, 150 albums would get you a Fiat 500.

    One wonders how many people tried eating their way to automobile ownership.

    In the factory, we watched the manufacturing process from a series of glass-enclosed walkways.

    An intense cocoa smell permeated everywhere.

    Battalions of Baci marched out of the machines where they were formed.

    They were showered three times in dark chocolate, then sent back and forth across the factory on conveyor belts, first naked and shiny, then dressed in their distinctive silver-and-blue suits by little mechanical hands.

    An essential part of the wrapping, of course, is the insertion of fortune cookie-like messages with observations on love.

    The love notes have been a Baci feature since their creation, although at first they were written only in Italian.

    Now they are multilingual (up to four translations per note).

    The languages chosen vary, depending on the batch's destination.

    The plant is highly automated, employing only about 800 people year-round, more for holiday production.

    Quality control workers smiled up at us as they kicked out less-than-perfect Baci ("We'll take them," we mouthed) and packed the rest into boxes, cylinders or holiday packaging.

    The most popular part of the tour came at the end, when a basket of fresh, free samples was placed on the counter.

    Basic Baci were there, as well as a spicy, cinnamon-flavored dark chocolate orBaci filled with strawberry or limoncello cream, as well as other non-Baci confections produced at the plant.

    And if you eat too many?

    Well, Assisi isn't far away -- a great place to go to confession.

The Museo Storico Nestle Perugina in San Sisto is open Monday through Friday (check with the museum or tourist information offices in Perugia about special weekend hours).

The factory may be toured by reservation only; reservations are only by telephone (011-39-075-527-6796).

Tours are free.

Perugia also hosts Eurochocolate, an annual chocolate festival and exposition in October.

May 29, 2005 at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

360°–Dribble–Proof Tumbler


Every time I try to avoid spilling hot coffee on my shirt while I'm driving, I fail.

I've taken to wearing an old T–shirt in the car when I'm on my way somewhere that will require my appearance in a decent shirt and tie.

Then I change in the car before I go in.

Now come Thermos/Nissan with a solution to the vexing drinking while driving problem.

They've created an insulated travel drinkholder with a lid featuring slits around the entire periphery (above) instead of one big hole.

Might work.

Twist–open, recessed lid.

Keeps things hot for three hours, cold for six.

Stainless steel container (below) holds 14 oz.


$24.95 here (item #57094).

May 29, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Guns don't kill children — swimming pools do


I've just finished reading "Freakonomics," the hot–selling book by controversial economist Steven D. Levitt.

You may recall that he was the person who concluded that the reason crime has decreased so markedly in recent years in the U.S. is because of increased access to abortion.

Levitt concluded that potential criminals were disproportionately aborted and thus crime twenty years later inevitably declined as a result.

Both the left and the right attacked him equally furiously.

In "Freakonomics" the subject of how we perceive risk is addressed.

Levitt cites Peter Sandman, a self–described "risk communications consultant," who reduced our relative perception of risk to a tidy equation:

Perceived risk = hazard + outrage.

It's a zero–sum equation, where one or the other factor usually dominates.

Sandman says, "When hazard is high and outrage is low, people underreact; when hazard is low and outrage is high, they overreact."

Thus, swimming pools are viewed as less frightening than guns because the thought of a child being shot through the chest with a neighbor's gun is gruesome, dramatic and horrifying — in a word, outrageous.

Swimming pools do not inspire outrage even though they are in fact far more of a danger to children than guns.

This is because of the familiarity factor: most of us have a lot more experience in pools than shooting guns.

Levitt wrote an op–ed piece for the Chicago Sun–Times on the subject; it appeared on Saturday, July 28, 2001.

Interestingly, Levitt was attacked by the NRA after it appeared.

Here's the op–ed.

    Pools More Dangerous Than guns

    What’s more dangerous: a swimming pool or a gun?

    When it comes to children, there is no comparison: a swimming pool is 100 times more deadly.

    In 1997 alone (the last year for which data are available), 742 children under the age of 10 drowned in the United States last year alone.

    Approximately 550 of those drownings – about 75 percent of the total – occurred in residential swimming pools.

    According to the most recent statistics, there are about six million residential pools, meaning that one young child drowns annually for every 11,000 pools.

    About 175 children under the age of 10 died in 1998 as a result of guns.

    About two-thirds of those deaths were homicides.

    There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States.

    Doing the math, there is roughly one child killed by guns for every one million guns.

    Thus, on average, if you both own a gun and have a swimming pool in the backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.

    Don’t get me wrong.

    My goal is not to promote guns, but rather, to focus parents on an even greater threat to their children.

    People are well aware of the danger of guns and, by and large, gun owners take the appropriate steps to keep guns away from children.

    Public attitudes towards pools, however, are much more cavalier because people simply do not know the facts.

    It takes thirty seconds for a child to drown.

    Infants can drown in water as shallow as a few inches.

    Child drownings are typically silent.

    As a parent, if you let your guard down for an instant, a pool (or even a bucket of water) may steal your child’s life.

    The Consumer Products Safety Commission offers a publication detailing some simple steps for safeguarding pools (available on the internet at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/359.pdf).

    The advice is mostly common sense.

    Included among the suggestions are installing fences that entirely surround the pool, putting locks on the gates, keeping house doors locked so toddlers cannot slip out of the house unmonitored, and installing power safety covers for the pool.

    If every parent followed these steps, perhaps as many as 400 lives per year might be saved.

    This would be more lives saved than from two of the most successful safety-interventions in recent decades: the use of child car seats and the introduction of safer cribs.

    Potential lives saved from pool safety are far greater than from child-resistant packaging (an estimated 50 lives saved per year), keeping children away from airbags (less than 5 young children a year have been killed by air bags a year on average since their introduction), flame retardant pajamas (perhaps 10 lives saved annually), or safety drawstrings on children’s clothing (two lives saved annually).

    Simply stated, keeping your children safe around water is one of the single most important things a parent can do to protect a child.

    As a father who has lost a son, I know first-hand the unbearable pain that comes with a child’s death.

    Amidst my grief, I am able to take some small solace in the fact that everything possible was done to fight the disease that took my son’s life.

    If my son had died in a backyard pool due to my own negligence, I would not even have that to cling to.

    Parents who have lost children would do anything to get their babies back.

    Safeguard your pool so you don’t become one of us.

Want more?


Here's a link to an NPR interview with Levitt.

May 29, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exquisite coral finials


They're at Ruzzetti & Gow, a carriage trade store at Madison Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City.


I happened on a picture and mention of these finials (top) in last Thursday's Washington Post Home section and told the crack research team to investigate.




Turns out this très chic store has a wonderful website showing off a very unique selection of objects.


They've tricked–out their online store in such a way that when you slide your computer's cursor over an object its description and price show up as well as "click to order."


I've not seen this before and know from my own absurdly futile attempts to simply post links and pictures that the company's computer people invested an enormous amount of thought, time and effort to make this feature possible.


The red coral finial is $200; blue or white are $80 apiece.


What does it mean when a finial costs more than the lamp it adorns?


Not a thing.


The store is at 22 East 72nd Street, just off Madison Avenue towards 5th Avenue, on the 3rd Floor; tel: 212–327–4281; Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; open late Thursday evenings.

May 29, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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